Establish yourself as a subject matter expert using the Internet
In the late 1990s, a building service contractor began pitching two books he had written on the professional cleaning industry. Once the books were written, he discovered—as he had anticipated—that no publisher was interested in publishing the books.
Left with few alternatives, he self-published the books and then decided to start promoting himself on a still relatively new medium— the Internet. At that time, AOL (America Online) and some of the trade publication websites in the professional cleaning industry had what were called message boards. In many ways, they were the first forms of social media. People—in this case, contract cleaners—would exchange views, ask and answer questions, and generally converse with one another.
This fledgling author was in an enviable position in that he had recently sold his last commercial cleaning company and could devote all of his time to promoting his books using these message boards. But he didn’t try to advertise the books or necessarily promote himself, instead, he used the message boards to answer as many questions as possible about the industry, which he had been a part of for more than 25 years.
And the questions flooded in. The most commonly asked question was how to bid on a building. Others included when to bill customers. What is an independent contractor? Can I hire independent contractors? How do I handle a difficult customer? How can I remove spots and stains from the carpet? Because he had lived this industry for so many years, the author had firsthand experience dealing with many of these issues and was able to answer them with considerable detail and as conscientiously as possible.
What happened next was truly unexpected. First, the books began to sell, slowly at first but increasing over time. Then an Internet startup in New York City asked him to add content to their website, which focused on the professional cleaning industry. After meeting with the author, they offered him a job and moved him to New York. After about two years at this position, another new door of opportunity opened. This time ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, met with him and offered him a job in Chicago.
This chain of events all started, not with the author advertising himself or his books, but with him being consistent, persistent, and as helpful on those message boards as possible. In fact, he developed a motto that he repeated to himself over and over again, which was to “give, give, give,” assuming that in time, it would pay off, which it did. What this gentleman was doing is called “content marketing.” And the reason I know so much about him is that the gentleman is me.
What is content marketing?
As you can tell by what has been discussed, content marketing is not selling; however, it is definitely marketing. While there is no set definition for content marketing, one that most people in the content marketing industry are comfortable with is that it is a marketing program based on the sharing of quality, credible, and pertinent information. This is essentially what I was doing while working those message boards.
It should be noted that content marketing does not result in sales directly. What happens is that as a potential customer interested in your services finds your information helpful and educational, that person views you and your company as experts in your field. Your expertise and the trust that evolves leads to sales. In many ways, the potential customer has already selected you and your company before he or she has even met you simply because the person already believes you are the best in your field.
Although many people have not heard of content marketing, it is certainly not new. What is considered the first form of content marketing began more than 100 years ago when John Deere, who started the John Deere company making farming equipment, started publishing The Furrow. This magazine was not used to promote John Deere equipment, although all the farmers receiving the publication were well aware of who published it. Instead, it was intended to share helpful, educational information that farmers could use, and when it was first published in 1895, there was no other publication like it. John Deere believes the publication is what made the company so successful over the years, and for that reason, The Furrow is still being published today.
Other companies have branched out into content marketing. Some are very large and well known, such as General Electric, American Express, IBM, and Coca Cola. Others are small and relatively unknown beyond their immediate community, but as we shall discuss, content marketing has helped these companies as well.
Catching the wave—and sales—in Virginia
Around 10 years ago, Marcus Sheridan, along with a business partner, started a swimming pool installation business in Virginia. The duo came up with a company motto, “Catch the wave,” and used it to advertise their business in a variety of venues. Although the business was evolving, it was not exactly a success, and when the real estate crash of 2007 and 2008 occurred, things were looking pretty grim. With funds running short, Sheridan took bold action. He started a website, www.poolschool.us, and began making videos discussing all the issues and questions his customers typically have before they install a pool, such as what is the difference between a fiberglass and vinyl liner pool? How much does a swimming pool cost? How long does it take to install a pool?
“Our mission was to educate,” said Sheridan. “We never used it to sell pools.”
Content marketing is based on sharing quality, credible, and pertinent information with potential clients.
As it turned out, Sheridan was a natural when it came to making videos. He came across as very sincere and helpful. In time, sales picked up and gained momentum over time. Today, while I believe Sheridan is still involved with his pool installation company, he is also a consultant to companies throughout North America, helping them with their content marketing programs. He also gives presentations throughout the country.
Similar but far grander than my own experience, Sheridan has come a very long way from having a small pool installation company in a small town in Virginia. His videos also demonstrate that content marketing does not always have to be words. In fact, videos can be a powerful form of content marketing.
How can it help you?
Selecting a cleaning contractor can be a very difficult decision for a facility manager, especially of a large building. Put yourself in his or her shoes. The building may be several floors high with scores of tenants, each one with their own personal needs and wants. Selecting the wrong service provider—or the least expensive—can have serious negative implications. But other than checking references and doing as much due diligence as possible, how can he or she select a contract cleaning company that will meet the facility’s needs as well as those of her tenants?
What typically happens is the manager will go online but likely find one service after another promoting themselves with what are essentially online brochures. These websites are just trying to “sell” her something. However, then she encounters one contractor’s website that offers article after article providing quality, credible, and educational articles on such topics as:
• How to select a contract cleaner?
• Should you have a Green cleaning program in your facility
• What is Green cleaning?
• What can you extend the life of your carpets?
• Are there ways to reduce costly refinishing cycles?
• What new technologies have evolved in the professional cleaning industry?
Now this manager is not being “sold,” she’s being educated. It’s a big difference. “These people are trying to help me,” she thinks. “I can see they know what they are doing; I can trust them.”
By providing quality information—in other words, using content marketing—this education opens doors, and those doors can lead to sales.
Robert “Buzz” Kravitz is president of AlturaSolutions, which works extensively with B2B industries such as professional cleaning, foodservice, hotel, hospitality, and Green-related manufacturers and organizations, providing content marketing and related services. Contact him at www.alturasolutions.com